Rail commuters do not seem to mind paying extra money for long journeys in Southern Railway (SR) even without getting value addition. Occupancy rate of Special Fare and Suvidha trains, which are a real money spinner, has risen marginally or consistently hovered around 90% in the first quarter of the current financial year in the zone.
More people have taken Suvidha and Special Fare trains during April - July period (the busiest time of the travelling year) this year compared to corresponding year.
Going by the data sourced from Southern Railway, occupancy rate of both category of trains has spiked over 10% during the aforesaid period in some instances. While the occupancy rate of Suvidha trains was 90% in June 2017 (32 trains were operated), the same has increased to 111% in the same month in 2018 (25 trains operated) in SR zone. The statistics was no different in special fare trains category, which also saw a reasonable jump in patronage during the period. Occupancy rate of special fare trains increased by eight per cent and 27% in April and July 2018 compared to the same period corresponding year. Notably, SR had operated more Special Fare trains in the first quarter of this fiscal compared to the previous financial year.
The numbers pertaining to mail/express, Rajdhani and Duronto trains were also on the higher side in the first four months of this year as against the overall occupancy of last year (April 2017 – March 2018). Senior SR officials who collated the data attributed the rise in patronage, especially in Special Fare and Suvidha trains to high demand and cost. “People are willing to pay extra money for Special Fare and Suvidha trains because there is a high demand for it. Even our Suvidha and Special Fare trains cost is at par with the ordinary Omni and government buses. Also, we offer better comfort and the journey time is very less. Hence, the patronage even in Suvidha and Special Fare special trains,” a highly placed SR officer requesting anonymity reasoned.
Segments like Chennai -Tirunelveli and Chennai - Kanyakumari apart from Howrah bound trains from Chennai have maximum occupancy owing to high demand on these segments. “One of the major reasons for high occupancy on Chennai -Tirunelveli segment is the time and cost factor. Overnight train journey to Tirunelveli or Madurai or Trichy, and that too in eight-hour journey (Tirunelveli would consume over 11 hours), only costs less than Rs 400 in a normal second-class sleeper train, whereas the same would cost well over Rs 600 in non-AC Omni bus. Our Class-II sleeper fair is less than the government fare. Likewise, the Chennai – Howrah segment is kept on high demand by the mobility of north Indian migrant workers,” the officer explained.
However, SR officers conceded that they could not compete with the premium range Omni bus operators who run high-speed imported vehicles on commercially viable routes, whereas railways operate on fixed routes irrespective of the commercial viability. “Sometimes, occupancy rate of long distance trains like Chennai -Trivandrum mail would come down because the train would be jam-packed till Coimbatore or Palakkad and run half or near vacant toward the end of the journey. In such cases, the overall occupancy of the train would come down,” a highly placed officer of the commercial department reasoned.